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The end or the beginning?
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 18 - 04 - 2019

The Israeli elections concluded with expected results, giving Binyamin Netanyahu another term that may be marred by some legal wrangling, or even a verdict against him. The fact is, the radical right will rule Israel in the coming phase; the alternative wasn't that great either since his rival camp was a group of Israeli generals who would not fare much better. Israeli society has moved to the far right, which means the “radical” right. This is not purely Israel's fault, since Israeli-Palestinian interactions have left a strong radical imprint on both sides. What is important is what comes next.
Procedurally, the margin of Netanyahu's victory means he will not have trouble choosing a cabinet and forming a new government, which is when the US will present its new initiative. It is notable that the US never mentioned restarting the peace process, and by its reaction to Arab talk about “international legitimacy”, documents on final status negotiations, previously agreed on issues, and even Rabin's legacy do not mean much for current US policymakers.
Despite confusion and tension, for Arabs this is not an entirely new experience. In 1977, Menachem Begin won the elections despite being a vocal radical, especially after the turnaround in Israel's domestic policies. The outcome of the October War had begun to subside, and the civil war in Lebanon had started. Palestinians at the time did not know whom among them was more responsible for divesting the Palestinian cause. Anwar Al-Sadat was the only one who was able to travel forward in time and think the unthinkable, taking an initiative that triggered a variety of reactions until Israel withdrew from all Egyptian territories. A framework was put in place to manage the Arab-Israeli conflict for the next four decades, including wars, settlements and peace treaties.
Mohamed Abdel-Salam published an editorial titled “End Game: Can the Arab-Israeli conflict be resolved this time?” in Issue 29 of Trending Events published by the Future Centre for Advanced Research and Studies in Abu Dhabi. “This time” is referring to the US's attempt to address the conflict, which is expected after the formation of the Israeli government.
The editorial followed three phases of the conflict. First, that it is unsolvable either because it is “existential” or “central” or is a matter of fate. Second, it is difficult to solve because it is a matter of reconciling different interests and requires a will to negotiate, a mediator that is respected by all sides carrying a carrot and stick, and time. Accordingly, there have been conferences in Geneva and Madrid, preceded and succeeded by international resolutions and bilateral and multilateral negotiations, and a blend of “Arabising” the Palestinian cause or making it a purely Palestinian-Israeli issue. Third, that it is solvable.
If the first phase is based on history and values (justice, freedom, right to self-determination), and the second is based on political geography after it is combined with economic geography, the third phase is based on resolving conflict with practical effect. For example, if two sides quarrel over river water, they can quarrel on the basis of historic rights and appropriate interpretations of river water laws. But if it is a matter of providing water for drinking and irrigation, then technology can provide the necessary amount of desalinated water, and more. Trump's anticipated offer will be along these lines.
While the editorial was incorrectly titled “End Game”, it is the beginning of another game that Arabs must foresee, as Sadat had in the past. History does not repeat itself; Sadat's surprise visit to Jerusalem, which opened the door to everything that followed, cannot be repeated today. But there is room for diligence and creating offers that one cannot refuse.
It is reported there are four major ideas. First, continuing the status quo; namely, Israeli control in its current form while improving the Palestinian economy and giving Palestinians more freedom of movement in areas A and B, and allowing them an airport and seaport in Gaza, in return for a complete halt to violence for a period of time after which a Palestinian state can be declared in these two areas as well as Gaza. This is within the realm of making geopolitical arrangements between the two sides.
Second, the deal offered in the Arab Peace Initiative announced 27 March 2002 by the Arab League, which requires Israel to withdraw from Arab territories occupied in 1967, in return for full normalisation with Arab states. This is another geopolitical formula combined with geo-economic possibilities discussed in previous multilateral talks.
Third, a deal rooted in the creation of one state that includes Palestinians and Israelis based on current conditions on the ground; namely, 12 million people between the River Jordan and Mediterranean Sea who are half Jews and half Arab Palestinians. They would have unified security and economy (work, currency and taxes). This deal is based on co-existence, and translating reality into the possibility of peaceful co-existence and equality.
Fourth, a “functional peace”, which perhaps began before Trump thought of his initiative, when Egypt created the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) that includes Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, and which is based on gas and oil, their transportation, liquefaction, export and production. Functional solutions are about people rather than states; Palestine and Israel had no principled or historic problem in joining the forum because there are laws governing this market, such as maritime laws, demarcation of maritime boundaries, gas pipeline ownership, export rules, etc.
The main point here, regardless of the options or formulae, is that the current reality is unsustainable without periodic wars, instability that creates extremism and intolerance, preventing both the Palestinians and Israelis from living normal lives.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.


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